The Slatest

Texas House Speaker Signs Arrest Warrants for Democrats Who Fled to Block Voting Bill

Dan Huberty sits among empty chairs.
State Rep. Dan Huberty sits among empty chairs in the Texas House Chamber on July 13 in Austin, Texas. Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

Republicans in Texas are increasing pressure on Democratic lawmakers to return to the state’s Legislature, threatening they may be arrested if they fail to go back to the GOP-led chamber. State lawmakers voted 80–12 to give law enforcement the authority to track down and force absent Democrats to return to the House of Representatives. Shortly thereafter, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan signed civil arrest warrants for 52 Democrats. The warrants will be delivered to the House sergeant at arms Wednesday morning for service. The lawmakers wouldn’t face criminal charges and could just be taken to the House chamber. “People aren’t going to jail, but they got to come back to work,” Republican state Rep. Mayes Middleton said.

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The decision to issue the arrest warrants came hours after the Texas Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling that protected Democrats from being arrested. The ruling followed by the arrest warrants marked a sharp escalation of efforts by Republican state representatives to end the protest over a controversial voting bill. Fifty-seven Democratic lawmakers fled to Washington in mid-July to block passage of the measure and to talk about the need for federal voting rights protections. But since then many of them have returned, although it’s unclear how many are back in Texas.

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Some Democratic lawmakers don’t seem all that worried about the arrest warrants. “I think they’re bluffing. Do they really want to arrest a woman of color?” state Rep. Celia Israel told the Washington Post. “They’re just thumping their chests.” State Rep. Evelina “Lina” Ortega told the Texas Tribune it would be a “big mistake” if Republicans decide to go through with the arrest. “We’ll see what happens,” she added. State Rep. Chris Turner, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said it is “fully within our rights as legislators to break quorum to protect our constituents.” There have been some breaks among Democrats as a few did decide to return to the House this week, leading to criticism from their colleagues. But they still fell short of the 100 representatives needed to vote on the controversial bill. Some Republican lawmakers say they are optimistic the threat of an arrest would persuade Democrats to return. “I hope this kind of wakes them up and allows them to say, ‘All right, it’s time to get back to work,’ ” state Rep. Matt Krause said.

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